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Saturday
Jan252014

Windows Phone 8: A superior mobile operating system

wp_ss_20140125_0002Windows Phone 8 is, simply, the best mobile operating system since webOS came out. The operating system is smooth, good looking and fairly easy to use. It takes the Zune UI experience to a more complete and fulfilling level.

Because Microsoft dictated a decent minimum spec for devices that will run the operating system, performance is snappy and satisfying. You tap an icon or link and are, nearly, instantly taken to the site, app or whatever you tapped. No waiting, which is something I do, a lot, with my iPhone.

(NOTE: See my experience with T-Mobile, here.)

The device I have, a Lumia 521, is well suited for Windows Phone 8 and came with just a handful of non-Microsoft supplied apps. These are from Nokia and consist of the ‘HERE’ apps and some T-Mobile oriented apps.  By now, I’ve learned to accept the crapware from the carriers and just avoid them.

THE INTERFACE

When the operating system starts, you are presented with the now familiar Tile interface. You can scroll through, up or down, your tiles.  You can have tiles of differing size and, depending on the app, they can be ‘live’.  My three weather apps are live tiles and are very informative.  The photo tile will cycle through your photos giving you a mini slide show. The Facebook tile, while live, isn’t as useful as it could be.  The people hub, music and video hub and XBOX games tiles are all live, though the games and music/video hubs don’t really need to be live. 

Swiping left on the tile page will present a vertically scrollable menu of all of your apps. You can launch them, delete them or add them to the tile page from here. Tapping on one of the boxed letters will present a screen with the alphabet. Tap a letter and you will go straight to the part of the app list starting with that letter. Letters without apps are not displayed.

Each app that follows the style guidelines, will display in a horizontal and scrollable manner. They typography is beautiful and the overall appearance is gorgeous.  I love the look of these apps.

Of course, not all apps follow the style, like the Facebook app.  It looks like any other Facebook app. It has a few Windowsy things, but, overall, looks like the iPhone/Blackberry/webOS/Zune Facebook apps.

APPS

wp_ss_20140125_0003Contrary to what I have read, I have yet to find an app that I have on the iPhone that does not have a Windows Phone 8 equivalent. Except for a few games, that is.  I have given up on Evernote, but there is a Windows Phone 8 version. OneNote, check. Camera apps, check.  Angry Birds, check. Web browser? Yep. Weather apps? Yep. 

Recently, several apps that both Android and iOS have, but were lacking on Windows Phone 8, are now available. They include Path and Instagram. So, developers are, finally, taking notice of Windows Phone 8.  Microsoft has provided some and as have Nokia, soon to be a Microsoft company.

In fact, the Nokia apps are really nice. I love Nokia Radio. It is like Pandora and looks great.

PERFORMANCE

As I said earlier, performance is snappy.  I have been very pleased with just how fast this operating system can be. Credit some of that to the hardware, but the multitasking aspect of Windows Phone 8 is, simply, fantastic. Press and hold the BACK button and you are presented with a horizontal,scrolling window that contains thumbnails of all running apps. Swipe left or right to scroll through them and then simply tap the one you wish to enter. To shut it down, tap it and then double tap the BACK button.  The only thing I would change is to add the up-swipe, ala webOS, to shut down an app.

wp_ss_20140125_0005Even with five or six things running, performance remains snappy. In fact, I’ve not really experienced any slow downs. Even with a couple of graphically intense games running.

ISSUES

Unfortunately, as with any operating system, Windows Phone 8 is not without its problems.  The worst problem I have encountered involves the Photos app and Facebook or pretty much any other app where you can select a photo to embed. After selecting a photo, the operating system may crash. It’s been mostly confined to Facebook, but I have experienced it with other apps, including OneNote.

The on-screen keyboard is junk.  The buttons are too small.  The iPhone, which is smaller than the Lumia 520, has a fairly decent on-screen keyboard when compared to Windows Phone 8. This is disappointing as the Zune HD’s on-screen keyboard was fantastic. The Zune HD is even smaller, but I had little difficulty with the keyboard. I don’t know what can be done to make it better, but they need to do something.wp_ss_20140125_0004

My last gripe is not really an OS problem, but an omission from the Lumia 521: no flash.  Yep, it has a nice camera, takes very nice photos (compared to other phones) but does not have a flash. Seriously? Make sure you have LOTS of light when using your camera.

SUMMARY

Windows Phone 8 is a superior mobile operating system. I am anxious to see what Microsoft is going to do with it. The roadmap has Microsoft ‘marrying’ the mobile and desktop operating systems into one OS and one app store. 

With its snappy performance, ease of use and nice looking interface, Windows Phone 8 is a fantastic alternative to Android and, especially, iOS powered devices.

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